We may not know what they mean all the time, but somehow the images of our dreams seem to be packed with meaning.
These subconscious images (that is, dreams) are the result of our conscious, lived experience. Understanding our dreams and what they’re trying to tell us can, at its best, help us to improve the way we live our conscious lives and become better adjusted to the reality of which we are all a part.
Dreams, then, are incredibly personal. The subconscious uses symbols specific to the dreamer. As personal as they are, therefore, the great brunt of dream interpretation falls on the dreamer. And yet, there are common themes, common motifs, that run through the dream journals of the past and make their way into old stories, drawings, and the myths of yore.
We can look to these old sources, as well as to the psychology of the dreamer, to show us what a dream might mean.
In this article, we’re going to be exploring some of these motifs, looking at the types of dreams and what they mean, or might mean, to you.
The Science of Dreaming
Unlike our conscious, waking lives, the world of our dreams is purely private. As we all know, there is no way to transmit the experience of a dream to others; we can tell someone our dream, but language somehow fails to grasp the vibrant images and sensations of the dream.
In the groundbreaking work of Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, he illustrates very convincingly the fact that dreams are spontaneously produced by the unconscious (or subconscious, as we call it today) during sleep. This was over a century ago, and yet even today, there are a slew of psychologists who refuse to admit any meaningfulness to dreams.
Joseph Campbell, in his seminal 1949 work on comparative mythology, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, describes dreams in this way: “Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream”. Indeed, dreams have long been understood, even since the days of Freud, as a way by which one’s subconscious processes and connects with their daily life.
Despite understanding the general importance of dreams, the majority of the public still remains largely mystified when it comes to the meaning of their own dreams. While the task of dream interpretation falls mostly on the dreamer, there are some general dream themes we can look at to help guide our hands.
The Seven Types of Dreams
Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist from Liverpool, breaks dreams down into seven distinct types.
Daydreams are generally described negatively by Matthew Walker. These dreams may take the form of ruminations, whereby the mind gets caught in a rut and continually rehashes a conversation or sensation.
Seen in this sense, daydreams are purely the domain of the conscious mind, meaning, by Jung’s definition, they aren’t dreams at all. Daydreams can, however, be a moment of the subconscious at work.
Have you ever been randomly inspired during the day? Maybe a new tune popped into your head or a line for a new poem. Maybe a premonition that turned out to be true? These are all examples of daydreams, moments in which you became partly aware of your subconscious sensations.
The false-awakening dream is a dream in which a person believes they’ve woken up but are, in fact, still asleep. This creates a strange sensation in the dreamer and introduces them to a state that isn’t quite conscious and isn’t quite asleep. This is a common situation with so-called “sleep paralysis.”
In healing dreams, the dreamer attains a supernatural ability, commonly that of healing others, but also telekinesis and telepathy. These dreams generally make us feel quite good and can bring a sense of peace.
Dreamers that have healing dreams may be very stressed out in their conscious lives: they may be dealing with grief or going through an intense period at work. Other healing dreams may be representative of a problem that the dreamer has the potential to solve.
In lucid dreams, the dreamer attains the ability to consciously manipulate the world of the dream. In some cases, lucid dreamers can totally control the environment, while in other cases, only partial control is available.
Nightmares are dreams that cause a sensation of fear in the dreamer. They may wake the dreamer, but they don’t have to. Nightmares are understood as the subconscious processing stressors that affect the dreamer in their waking life.
A prophetic dream predicts a moment that will happen in the future. Prophetic dreams remain a mystery to scientists, and the jury is still out as to what is really in a prophetic dream. Are they genuine foresight into the future? Or are they merely the subconscious sending up a likely outcome to prepare the dreamer for such an eventuality?
Recurring dreams are dreams that the dreamer experiences many times. This may be in the course of one sleep session or over many nights of sleep. Recurring dreams are thought to be the subconscious’s attempt to deal with some conscious factor that is affecting the dreamer’s life.
It may have to do with repression on the part of the dreamer, sometimes repression of a feeling even he or she is not aware of.
Typical Dream Themes
Here are some of the most common dream themes.
Flying dreams may be asking the dreamer to gain perspective on something in their lives or show the dreamer that they already have perspective. Flying dreams have an inherent warning: you may be above it all, but beware you don’t fly too close to the sun.
Naked in Public
How do you feel in your dream? This is a great question to ask the naked-in-public dream. Being naked in public in a dream can mean you feel too vulnerable or insecure. It can also mean you have nothing to hide.
Attacked By an Animal
Being attacked by an animal in your dream can be an illustration of the state of your mind. The animal may represent the subconscious, and you may represent the unconscious. This dream can reflect a turbulent and troubled mental landscape.
Teeth Falling Out
If your teeth are falling out in your dream, you may have to make an important decision that you’re not sure about. In dream research, idioms can be helpful. To “have teeth” means that something has power. If your teeth fall out in your dream, you may feel as if you’re losing power.
Have to Urinate
If you have to urinate in your dream, it may be a sign that you should wake up and head to the toilet!
We’ll conclude with the words of John Lennon: “you may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
As we’ve discussed in this article, everyone dreams, but dreams are incredibly personal. Doing research can get you started, but the very point of a dream is introspection. Take some time and think about what your dream might mean specifically in your life. Keep a dream journal if the subject is of interest to you.
Most of all, keep dreaming!